07 February 2016

Mexico 2016 Day 4 – Sunday 07 February

We were up for an early breakfast and departure on the bus by 07:30, headed out of Mexico City entirely toward San Miguel del Milagro, about two hours to the east in the state of Tlaxcala. We could feel our ears popping as we left the huge bowl in the midst of the mountains in which is Mexico City – I think Roberto might have said at one point that we topped out at about 10,000 feet above sea level. And that was going  through a pass between Monte Tlaloc to the north and two mountains to our south that had all our attention. 

It was a beautiful, albeit hazy, day, perfect for viewing Popocatepetl (“The Smoking Mountain”) and Iztaccihuatl (“The White Woman,” also called La Mujer Dormida, “The Sleeping Woman,” because from a certain aspect it looks like a sleeping woman). Both of the mountains, respectively the second and third highest in Mexico, are volcanoes; Iztaccihuatl is dormant, but Popocatepetl is very active. We slowly rounded them to the north, and were graced with seeing Popocatepetl belch out several clouds of steam. 

We stopped partway along the journey for a pit stop and extended view of the sight – and photos – then continued on to San Miguel. During the drive, Roberto told us the history of the Mexican Wars of Independence in the 19th century, Pablo related the story of the mountains [LINK], then Roberto took back up with the story of the apparition of St. Michael the Archangel in 1631 – one hundred years after Our Lady of Guadalupe – to an Indian peasant named Diego Lazaro [LINK], raising him from the dead and revealing a miraculous healing well, hallowing the place now known as “St. Michael of the Miracle.”

We spent a couple of hours there, passing through an open-air market, witnessing the colorful enthusiasm of Mexican piety, including a custom, this Sunday after the Feast of the Presentation (02 February), in which they brought dolls of the Infant Jesus to church to be blessed. Sunday Mass was in progress as we passed the main church – there was no getting in, but we went into a chapel at the adjacent Shrine of San Miguel del Milagro, where Fr. Peter said Mass and then we were able to have bottles filled with healing waters from the well. The well, just outside the main church, is now just about dry, so the brothers who staff the shrine allocate it to pilgrims, distributing holy water with a dash of water from the holy well.

Afterward, we wandered around the market for an hour or so. I bought some kind of pastry from some nuns selling through a window directly out of their convent; Anne picked up a number of small items of pottery, one of the wares for which this area is known. Back on the bus , Taylor talked about the role of Our Lady as Mediatrix of All Graces and Co-Redemptrix [LINK] (two doctrines that particularly raise the ire of Protestants who do not understand the central role Our Lady played in the Plan of Salvation and consider that recognizing her participation somehow denigrates Christ’s own unique role as Redeemer), as we drove about a half hour or so to Puebla. There, at the Hotel Colonial Restaurant in the city which is the reputed home of the dish, we enjoyed a rich meal of the Mexican chocolate-based gravy known as mole (“MO-lay”) on chicken eaten in corn tortillas like fajitas. It was wonderful! After that, we walked a fair distance through a larger market toward our next church. But, on the way, Anne and I had a little adventure.

It wasn’t really much – the day before, at lunch, Anne had mentioned to Pablo her wish to be able to bring Tristan back some kind of soccer memorabilia – a scarf or a jersey. He immediately said he knew just the place, in Puebla. Anne reminded him and we broke off from the group for a few minutes to go into a sports shop where she found what she wanted. I was having flashbacks of when she and I had broken briefly away from the group in Italy for exactly the same reason [LINK] – only that time we did not have local cooperation! With Pablo’s help, the transaction was completed in mere minutes – which didn’t keep our absence from being noticed. It was somewhat amusing as we caught up to the group and could hear on our Whispers that they realized someone was not present – including Pablo! – but were not be able to respond and let them know we were on our way.

In any case, we all made it to the Church of Santo Domingo in Puebla and went inside. Among the many notable sights there was what is definitely in the running for the single most impressive thing I saw on this trip (not counting the image of Our Lady, which is in a class all its own), a side chapel, really a full transept, dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, the 17th-century Capilla del Rosario. It was stunning in its Baroque beauty [see top], with huge oil paintings of the mysteries of the Rosary along the walls. As usual, the main nave of the church was surrounded by numerous other side chapels dedicated to various saints, including one to St. Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of Taylor Marshall’s online enterprise The New Saint Thomas Institute which sponsored this pilgrimage. I managed to get a picture of Taylor venerating the shrine of the saint being girded by angels. 

Assembling back in front of the Church, we walked a short distance to where the bus would pick us up, and were treated to a street band playing and people dancing – including our guide Pablo and one of the ladies from Houston, Molly! I heard someone say it was “Mexican Mardi Gras” (two days hence), but I’m not sure if that were serious or just a quip. 

Back on the bus, we made a quick transfer to another area of Puebla, to the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, which contains the incorrupt body of St. Sebastian of Aparicio, an early Spanish colonist in Mexico who lived a full life as the first Mexican “cowboy,” domesticating wild cattle, harnessing them to wheeled carts (the native Americans had no knowledge of either) and building a smooth highway to facilitate movement and trade across Mexico, all by the time he was seventy – at which time he gave up his fortune and became a friar, and spent most of the next thirty years as a beggar, finally dying at age 98. 

Finally, on the long ride back to Mexico City and the Galleria Plaza, after Evening Prayer we were treated to a movie – For Greater Glory, starring Andy Garcia, the story of the 1920s Cristiada War in Mexico. Actually, Anne and I had seen and enjoyed this 2012 film only a couple of weeks ago, in our preparation for this trip since I knew that conflict provided the context for Padre Pro’s martyrdom, but we enjoyed seeing it again. Briefly, set mainly in the west of Mexico, it told the story of an atheist general hired by the Cristeros, faithful Catholics taking up arms in resistance to the persecution initiated by President Plutarco Calles, to bring military discipline and leadership to their cause. Through the conflict and the witness of a young boy who runs away from home to join the war, the general finds his own faith just before he too falls in an ambush by the Federales. But we ended up on a cliffhanger ending – when we arrived at the hotel, we had just witnessed the martyrdom of the boy, Jose Sanchez, who refused to forsake his God, even in the face of horrific tortures. (We would, of course, finish out the movie, about another twenty minutes, the next evening.) Roberto then said that Jose was to be canonized during Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Mexico (which is not actually true – his required third miracle was just recently authenticated and he will be canonized, but the date has not been set [LINK]). But our group gained another rallying cry –to Taylor’s “Ave Maria!” (and “Bueno Bueno Bueno!” which began as Roberto’s mic' check) which we had from the beginning, now there was added the Cristeros’Viva Cristo Rey!,” “Long Live Christ the King!”

Roberto had pegged it – we were pulling back up to the hotel just after 20:00. A somewhat more limited, but still excellent spread, was laid out for us in the dining room – but a number of people didn’t seem to avail themselves of it, or did so only quickly, in order to get to their rooms or the bar to watch what remained of the Superbowl. How ‘bout them Broncos?

Anne and I went up to the room, Anne and I went up to the room, I backed up my photos, and we wound down to get a good night’s sleep for our last full day in Mexico.

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More Pictures from the Day

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